The Tactical Traveler

Haven't We All Been Here Before?
If you know the name ExpressJet, it means you're probably a frequent Continental Airlines traveler. Once a wholly owned subsidiary of Continental, ExpressJet is now independent and recently got whacked when the larger carrier pulled many of its Continental Express routes. ExpressJet's reaction? Start flying under its own name. Beginning this spring, ExpressJet will fly 50-seat regional jets to several dozen cities. ExpressJet's route map, posted on Thursday (February 1), shows flights to many city pairs currently lacking nonstop service and includes destinations such as Ontario, Fresno, Bakersfield and Monterey, California; Kansas City and Omaha; and Eastern cities such as Raleigh/Durham and Jacksonville, Florida. The airline is promising its own frequent flyer program, in-flight XM Radio and free snacks and meals. If all of this sounds somewhat familiar, it is. It's virtually the same plan rolled out several years ago by Atlantic Coast, which split from United, renamed itself Independence Air and then tanked in 20 months. ExpressJet hasn't announced fares--it isn't claiming to be a low-fare airline, something that helped destroy Independence--and it will fly less-competitive routes than Independence, but it does have the same basic flaw as Independence: those expensive, inefficient 50-seat jets, which were never designed for the longer-haul operation run by Independence and proposed by ExpressJet.

A Little Bump in Baggage Liability
As airline lost-baggage numbers skyrocket, the Transportation Department (DOT) has roused from its bureaucratic slumber. Effective February 28, the minimum amount that airlines can impose as checked-baggage liability on domestic flights is $3,000. That's up slightly from the current $2,800 limit. And, please, read that carefully. The DOT says the $3,000 limit is the minimum, not the maximum. If your bag is lost and the value of the contents and the luggage exceeds $3,000, you can get restitution. You don't have to take what the airline offers. You may have to sue the airline, but there is no such thing as a maximum legal limit. … Here they go again: Led by Delta and American, the Big Six are trying for another $5 one-way increase on fares. The latest attempt applies to 3-to-21-day advance purchase fares. We'll know by Monday (February 5) if this latest attempt sticks. … Great Britain doubled its airline taxes effective February 1--and the increase applies to tickets purchased before the deadline, too. So don't be surprised if your airline wants more money for a flight to the United Kingdom that you've already purchased. The new rate is about $20 for short-haul flights and about $79 on long-haul and transatlantic flights. Premium-class passengers now pay about $158 for a long-haul flight. … All types of American Airlines tickets are now available on Expedia again.

Now Big Six Merger Mania Starts for Real
While talking-head "experts" and stock-market analysts were already babbling about a US Airways-Delta merger as if it was a done deal, I told you in a column on the day after US Airways' bid was announced last November that it would never happen. And it hasn't. US Airways gave up the ghost this week after being rebuffed by Delta management and the bankrupt carrier's official creditors committee. So now while other experts talk about the end of the "momentum" for Big Six mergers, I suggest that the mania is just beginning. Delta has already held high-level talks with Northwest Airlines. Expect the conversations to heat up immediately after both carriers leave bankruptcy this year. In fact, Delta management has all but assured its creditors committee that it would pursue the combination. And watch for United and Continental to keep moving forward. Continental thinks it's deep in top management and United obviously isn't. Besides, United continues to be hamstrung by the fact that it is totally mortgaged, laden with debt, unable to expand and run by self-aggrandizing buccaneers who can't wait to cash out. And despite his two recent failures (US Airways also tried to snap up ATA Airlines), expect US Airways chief Doug Parker to make another run at something. Meanwhile, the AirTran-Midwest sideshow continues. AirTran this week nominated three people for election to the Midwest board and extended its tender offer until March 8.

What's in a Brand Flag? Apparently Not Much.
Hotels at all levels are changing brand names so fast that it's almost impossible to keep score. Please note these changes because the reservation you save may be your own. Marriott is switching its Renaissance Tokyo Ginza hotel to the Courtyard brand. The 206-room property is being renovated over the next 18 months. … The Houston Sofitel has been sold and the new owners immediately switched the 344-room hotel to the Crowne Plaza brand. … Hilton now has a full-service hotel at Fort Lauderdale Airport. The 388-property at I-95 and Griffin Road used to be a Wyndham. … And here's this week's winner: A 140-room hotel on Hilton Head Island has been renamed the Hilton Head Metropolitan. It's the property's third name in less than a year, having been recently called the Hilton Head Grand and the Hilton Head Plaza. Once upon a time, it was also a Four Points by Sheraton hotel. Informed sources say the Metropolitan name will remain because management has run out of Velcro for new signs…

Business-Travel News You Need to Know
United Airlines is testing separate check-in and boarding lines for its most elite Mileage Plus members. At its San Francisco hub, there are now special lines at 30 gates that allow select Mileage Plus members to board the plane whenever they wish. Global Services members will be escorted from the check-in counter directly to the plane. … Qantas flyers take note: More than two dozen of the airline's Boeing 747-400s have problems with their in-flight entertainment systems. That means a lot of long-haul flights to and from Australia are going out without at-seat videos or music. Better bring a good book. A long one. … British Airways averted a crew strike and the job actions planned for February have been cancelled. … Northwest Airlines WorldPerks members will be getting new perks when they reach the 60, 90, 120 and 160,000-mile tiers. Benefits include bonus miles, airport-club benefits and international upgrades. … Alitalia has drawn 11 bidders as the Italian government attempts to extricate itself from the financially challenged carrier. One of the bidders: a high-school teacher who earns €1200 a month. He said no one checked his credentials despite the fact that the Italian treasury insisted interested parties must have assets of €100 million.

Sunday Night Flights--and the Super Bowl Is Free
Two U.S. carriers with in-flight television systems, JetBlue Airways and Frontier Airlines, have cut a deal with the National Football League and CBS to carry Sunday's Super Bowl live in-flight. JetBlue, which gives away its television, is also giving passengers a free beer or cocktail during the game. Frontier charges for its at-seat TV service, but will be giving it away on flights during the game. Sorry about all you folks flying a Big Six carrier or Southwest on Sunday evening.

Copyright © 1993-2007 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.